MIAMIThe Boston Celtics didn't need to get beat 120-107 by the Miami Heat to know they have a ways to go before they can dethrone the NBA champion.
But it certainly drills the point home, one that won't be forgotten anytime soon by the C's who became the latest team to lose their season opener to the defending NBA champion.
Boston put up a strong fourth quarter rally to come within four points against a Miami Heat team that didn't have LeBron James (cramps) down the stretch.
Stay in the game with the latest updates on your beloved Boston sports teams! Sign up here for our All Access Daily newsletter.
But the comeback was too little too late for the C's whose defense left a lot of room for improvement.
"That's not who we are," said Boston's Paul Pierce on the Celtics defense. "We're not going to be a team that gives up 120 points. We have to establish our identity and who we are going to be."
Having spent most of the game playing from behind, Boston had a solid start to the game and led by as many as five points in the first quarter. But a 7-2 spurt to end the quarter by the Heat put Miami ahead by six points and the Heat's control of the game remained relatively strong the rest of the night.
There was a lot of talk leading up to the game about a potential Miami letdown after they received their championship rings prior to the game.
Instead of a letdown, the Heat delivered a smackdown of sorts to the C's most of the game which isn't that unusual for defending champs in their season opener.
Despite Miami getting beat badly by Chicago in their opener in 2006 after winning a title that year, defending champs have fared well in openers in recent years.
With Miami's win on Tuesday night, defending champs are now 10-3 in openers the following season since 2000.
Adding to the ring ceremony before the game and the general animosity that has developed between these two NBA powers, former Celtic Ray Allen being with the Heat now added another wrinkle of intrigue to this rivalry.
Allen had a strong game off the Heat bench, scoring 13 points in 14 minutes in the first half which included his first shot being a buzzer-beater at the shot clock - the kind of shot he would routinely knock down during his five seasons in Boston. He finished with 19 points.
For Boston, Pierce showed just how healthy he is now compared to last season when the lockout and a heel injury resulted in a slower than usual start for the Captain.
Despite some up and down play during the preseason, Pierce looked to be in mid-season form on Tuesday. He finished with a team-high 23 points. Ditto for Rajon Rondo who had 20 points and a team-high 13 assists.
With such a resounding loss, there were a number of Celtic players whose play was, to put it mildly, underwhelming.
At the top of that list has to be Kevin Garnett whose presence both as a scorer or defensive terror, never materialized other than a possession here and there. He had nine points and 12 rebounds.
As much as Garnett struggled, Jeff Green was even worse for the C's off the bench. The best player off the C's second unit in the preseason, Green never got into any kind of flow or rhythm.
That wasn't a total surprise considering this was his first game in more than a year after missing all of last season following heart surgery.
Fortunately for the C's, this is just the first of many games they'll have this season.
So while there's no sense of panic or overwhelming concern, there were more than enough issues that were problematic enough to keep Doc Rivers and his staff busy.
And then there's the opponent, the Miami Heat.
They proved in pretty emphatic fashion why they are the NBA champions - and why many believe that they will be doing yet another championship ring ceremony this time next year, in Miami.